Using Symbaloo in the elementary library

First things first: I did not create this brilliant idea.  Shannon McClintock Miller was the one who showed it to me, and it’s changed my library teaching for the better.

Symbaloo. A funky word, a brilliant product.  And when paired with your Destiny library catalog: a game-changer in regard to students and teachers utilizing library resources and accessing information.

Today, a few questions about Symbaloo in the library get answered.

What is Symbaloo?

Symbaloo helps to organize online resources in an intuitive, app-style format.  According to the company, Symbaloo is “a cloud-based application that allows users to organize and categorize web links in the form of buttons”.  It looks like this:

Why should I use Symbaloo in the library?

  1. It’s intuitive.  Students know how to use apps. This looks just like many of their home devices – click on the “app”, and it takes you to the appropriate website.
  2. It’s visual.  Many students in an elementary school are pre-readers.  The standard list of weblinks many libraries provide does not meet their information need.

    The original home screen in Destiny. No visual appeal, too much text, and no student input.

  3. English language learners are able to successfully access and utilize this format of information.

    A grade 2 student uses Symbaloo to access links in the library.

  4. Icons = color.  Humans like colorful things.  This is fun to look at.
  5. It’s relatively easy to set up an initial Symbaloo.  Once it’s done, updating it is simple.
  6. Teachers will actually use it.

How do I make something like that picture up above?

  1. Create a FREE Symbaloo account.
  2. Decide how large you want your Symbaloo grid to be.  Changing the size is easy – under Options, Edit webmix – Resize webmix – then click the arrows to make the grid larger or smaller.
  3. Download images to use as the icon pictures (if you care about such things – I do).
  4. Have links to websites / databases handy.  If you’ve got them, embedding direct links to databases allows students to access resources at school without typing in pesky usernames/passwords!  And if you don’t have direct links: email the company and explain what you need.  So long as you subscribe to the resource, they’ll send the direct link (I’ve done this a few times, and it works).
  5. Bonus: searching Symbaloo for other webmixes can give ideas on links to use within your own grid!

How to I embed Symbaloo into my Destiny catalog?

  1. Read this post from the aforementioned Shannon McClintock Miller at Van Meter Schools.
  2. Do what she says.

So, do I have to update the Symbaloo link in Destiny every time I change the original Symbaloo?

  1. Nope!  That’s the brilliance of Symbaloo.  Because it is web-based, so long as your click the “share” button at the center top of the screen, then “republish webmix”, your Symbaloo will update on any platform that uses the original embed code.  The ‘republish webmix’ button is the small gray circular arrow to the left of the ‘Share this webmix’.  

This seems like a lot of work. Is Symbaloo really that great?

  1. Yes. It is. Don’t believe me?  Believe my students.  In two schools, in two countries.  I gave my grade 4 students the task of redesigning the Destiny library catalog home screen when teaching in London.  Their biggest wants?  More color and pictures.  When given 3 choices of how the redesign could look, students overwhelmingly selected the Symbaloo home screen.  And they used it.

But teachers/students rarely use the library catalog, so why does something like this matter?

  1. Remember this scene from FIELD OF DREAMS?
  2. The baseball slogan was: if you build it, they will come.  The library version with Symbaloo: if you build it, they will use it. Believe in it, and the users will come.
  3. This is a just-in-time resource.  When teachers come scrambling to the library, looking for books about red pandas and narwhals and emperor penguins (my life this year) and the library doesn’t have the exact book they need , pull up the eye-catching Symbaloo on Destiny’s home screen and search within the linked resources.  Having PebbleGo and an encyclopedia database really helps.  Quick, easy, just-in-time.
  4. PRO TIP: When sharing a library Symbaloo for the first time, allow teachers & students to suggest links to incorporate.  Then take their suggestions, add the links to the webmix (don’t forget to share the webmix!), and share it out to the whole school.  My Symbaloo has Google Earth,, Newslea, Prodigy math, and Khan Academy based on the recommendation of teachers and students.

I want to learn more.  Any additional resources?

  1. Yes! Again, I direct you to Shannon’s blog: author Symbaloo pages & an intro tutorial.

That’s it. Know that Symbaloo doesn’t give me anything to share this – no badges, no money, no freebies.  I write this because the product has been that good since I started using it in 2016. Questions? Please ask!

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Library Lessons: Sep 10-14, 2018

Week 2 = the first week for check out this year!

Something I didn’t mention in Week 1: learning names. This should be a post in and of itself, as learning All The Names is one of the more challenging hurdles of the specialist life.  However, there are a few tips & tricks that have worked for me that I can share.


There are 6 K classes this year – 5 in a row on Monday afternoon, and 1 on Thursday.  Since school started on a Wednesday, this week was Week 1 for the Monday classes…and they did not check out.  The Thursday class DID check out.

For more about teaching kindergarten at the beginning of the year, read the following:

Grade 1:

Author study time!  Hello, Ryan T. Higgins!

Due to 30 minute classes and our first check-out, there wasn’t much time for questioning or reflection.  However, know that I always ask inferencing / predicting questions as I read aloud, and that stories often end with a Thinking Question.  A good one for this would be: Do you think Bruce is a good mother?  What evidence from the story supports your thinking?

Grade 2/3:

Perhaps the third year in a row I’ve used this lesson.  I like it.  So do the students.

This year, with only 30 minute classes – and this being our first week of (self) check out – we celebrated Dot Day over 3 weeks.  It ultimately incorporates literature, self-reflection, augmented reality, and digital citizenship.

Grade 4/5:

Week 1 was relatively easy: welcome & a read aloud.  Week 2, though: I was at a complete loss of what to do.  The availability of technology wasn’t entirely clear, the 4/5 classes were huge, and the students were bigger than I’d remembered.  I wasn’t ready to jump right into “big” learning.  Looking to the news, I became inspired: a huge hurricane was bearing down on the Carolinas, and I felt it was important for my students to realize that their country (and the world) was bigger than the small snow globe in which many of them live.  Hence: TWO BOBBIES by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery.  We looked at a large map to see where Hurricane Florence was, we talked about where in the US hurricanes occur (not the PNW), and we started a read-aloud that tells the story of a dog and a cat who became bonded for life after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

Next week: finishing up the story.

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Library Lessons: Nov 26-30, 2018

If it looks like lessons are repeating – they may be. SO many holidays or field trips or delays due to power outages and snow this year…


Grade 1:

Grade 2:

Grade 3:

Grade 4/5:

also, because it needed a quick refresher: how NOT to leave the Graphic Novel section after browsing…

Library Lessons: Sep 5 2018

Week 1 came too fast this year. Having been hired not two weeks before, I was *not* prepared in ways that I expect of myself.  Excuses or valid reasons?  Either way:

  • Library passes for self check-out weren’t made, nor was there railroad board used to make them available (thank you, Dick Blick, for having it AND delivering it in a speedy fashion). Result: no self check out during week 1.
  • Destiny wasn’t set up. Time was spent on setting up the physical space, not the virtual computer.  Students had to be updated, old fines forgiven, and restrictive notes removed.  Eep. Result: no check out at all in week 1.
  • Sorting through the cabinets and drawers was akin to an archeological dig: it never ended and there was a good chance of finding something valuable where it was least expected. Result: tons of time spent clearing, tossing, recycling, labeling, and reorganizing.
  • Books were double-stacked behind the circ desk.  Result: my mental sanity was being tested…
  • The library had new carpeting installed a week before Day 1.  All the furniture had to be put back..but where to?  There was no good map.  Result: designing a new library layout that worked.  Shelves had to be rolled, books had to be shifted, tables and chairs had to fit as the space needed to have a natural flow and sense of order.  Result: sweatiness, sore muscles, hours of time, but a design that flowed and made logical sense.
  • There were boxes and bags and tons of “stuff” packed pre-carpeting.  Dealing with furniture was easy compared to this.  What to keep?  What to let go?  I tossed it all in the library storage room for the time being (note: the room was, 4 weeks later, christened The Book Room and all the junk stuff that was tossed in there had to be dealt with ASAP).

But week 1 doesn’t care about these things: week 1 comes, whether I’m ready or not.  So it was a slow week, one where I shared a little bit about me, my family, and new books.  My personal goal for the year is to let students discover that the library is a place for them: that they’re always welcome in the library and that it will have what they want/need.  Starting slow, sharing books, and introducing my expectations (Be Kind, Be Safe, Do Your Best, Help the Rest – which are similar to the schoolwide expectations…except they rhyme, which works really well for the 16 K-2 classes) was the way I chose to go.


Grade 1/2:

Grade 3/4/5:

Library Lessons: Dec 3-7, 2018


Grade 1:

Grade 2/3:

Grade 4/5:

Cheers, y’all! –arika

Library Lessons: Dec 10-14, 2018


We also looked at photos of yarn-covered trees and imagined what it was like to create that art.

Grade 1:

Grade 2 & 3:

Grade 4 & 5:

Friends.  This was THE MOST FUN AND ENGAGEMENT OF 2018 in my new library.  I’ve never done Breakout before (too many classes! no reset time!), but the Digital platform made it possible.  They *loved* Winter is SNOW Fun, which was neither too easy nor too hard.  I gave a quick 4 minute run-down of how the website worked, complete with 1 sample of how to enter a clue’s answers.  That was it – they were off!

As a Winter Break Bonus, I linked Rudolph’s Hide-n-Seek in our library Symbaloo.  This was entirely more difficult – it took me almost 2 hours to solve it, and that was with the help of the entire family!  My favorite part of both of these Breakouts? They’re FREE!

Cheers, y’all! –arika